Mar 5, 2014

Evaluating Adult Rabbits

I took a poll not long ago asking what topic people were most interested in reading.  The overall winner was how to evaluate adult rabbits.  In getting ready for writing the post, I've decided to break it down into two parts: evaluating body type (which I'll cover today), and evaluating health (which I'll cover in a future post).

While the focus of evaluating body type in this post is mostly for meat production (with purebred or crossbred rabbits), the greater part of it applies to all rabbits meant for breeding and/or show.  The main exceptions are that full-arch breeds (such as English Spots) should be narrower, and won't fill out to the table like commerical and compact breeds.  For semi-arch (also called mandolin) breeds, such as Flemish Giants, shoulders are supposed to be low and the rise is supposed to start late.  Most everything else should apply to all breeds.

New Zealand and Californian rabbit profiles.
New Zealands and Californians are the top two commercial meat breeds of rabbits.  They are both considered to have commercial body type, but their profiles are actually different.  As you can see in the picture, Californians tend to be more rounded over the top, with an earlier peak.  Both types are desirable for meat production.  Other meat breeds tend to be somewhere in between the two types.

How to set up a rabbit correctly for proper evaluation.
In order to evaluate a rabbit properly, it is important to know how to pose them correctly.  The rabbit shown at left doesn't have an ideal body type, but her shadows allow you to see all the curves you need to align.  The front legs should be flat on the table from elbow to toe, with the toes directly under the eye.  The rear legs should be placed so that the front of the toes line up with the point of the stifle (or knee).  Some common mistakes people make when setting up rabbits are allowing the rabbits to sit on their front toes, with their elbows sticking up (makes their shoulders look higher than they really are); and shoving the rear end too far forward (can make the top curve look more desirable--or at least rounder--but makes the rear look more chopped off).  With practice, you can actually learn to see past bad poses (which is helpful when looking at buying stock via pictures), but even then, some faults can still stay hidden.

New Zealand doe pushing forward and posed properly.
Many rabbits have little quirks that you have to deal with when setting them up.  Some rabbits will push toward any touch, causing them to lean to one side or shift their weight forward or backward.  Once you figure out what triggers them, you can usually trick them into balancing out.  Sometimes you just have to wait for them to relax (a good pose should be relaxed, anyway).

High, well-rounded rise vs. short, flat rise.
Once you have the rabbit set up correctly, there are several things to look at.  Good meat rabbits have a fairly high rise.  The rise is the curve of the back, in profile, from shoulder, over the loins and back down to the table.  The rise should have a nice smooth curve, with no flat areas.  The peak of the curve can be anywhere along the loins (Californians and other round-commercial-types tend to peak at the front of the loins--at the end of the ribs---where New Zealands and similar types tend to peak toward the end of the loin--at the top of the hips).  If you're evaluating in person, you should run your hand from neck to tail to feel the substance of the rabbit.  You should feel meat, not squishy fat nor any sharp boniness.  The curve should also feel smooth, with no changes of angle that catch your hand or let your hand drop away.

Late-start rise vs. proper rise start
A common fault is a late start to the rise, often paired with low and/or narrow shoulders.  If you're making judgments based on a picture, make sure that the ears aren't lying on the back, which tends to cover up poor shoulders.  The picture above shows what a late start looks like in picture (with the ears being held up).  If you were feeling along the top line of the faulted rabbit, your hand would catch at the dip.  Such rabbits lack shoulder meat.  Properly-meated shoulders will start the rise right at the base of the neck, as shown on the Californian in the picture above.

Chopped off hindquarters vs. properly sloped hindquarters.
Another common fault is chopped of hindquarters.  When feeling over the rear of the rabbit, there is a sudden drop from the top of the hips down to the tail, instead of having a rounded curve down to the table. Some rabbits may also have a flat slope from the top of their rise down to the table. Chopped-off and flat-sloped rabbits lack hindquarter meat.

If you're not evaluating in person, ask to see pictures of the rabbit from above, if possible, as well.  There are some things you can see from above that you might not notice from a side profile.

Narrow shoulders vs. well-rounded, wide shoulders
The ideal top profile should be as round as possible, with a smooth curve going out from the shoulders, and then rounding from the loins around the rear.  The above picture shows a tear-drop shaped rabbit, which lacks shoulder meat, and a rabbit which has properly wide shoulders.

Wide loins vs. narrow (or hollow) loins
It is easier to see the waistline of the rabbit from a top view.  The loins should curve outward, not inward.  Look for shadows indicating the outline of the loins.  A turned in waist can also indicate excessive shoulder fat instead of lack of loin meat, but neither case is desirable.  If you're feeling the rabbit, you can feel the ribs to be sure which is the case.

Pinched hindquarters vs. meaty hindquarters
You should also pay attention to the hips and hindquarters.  You want to see well-rounded hindquarters and hips, with plenty of meat.  If you can see the outline of the hips, there is a lack of meat on the hindquarters.

Hollow loins vs. well-rounded loins.
It is also helpful to view the rabbit from behind.  Ideally, as usual, you want to see a smooth curve.  The widest point should be at the table.  Good, meaty loins will fill out around the spine, so you won't be able to see where it is.  Some loins are so meaty that there may actually be a dip in the curve where the spine is.  That's just fine; you just don't want to see the spine sticking up.

Properly square hocks vs. turned hocks
One other thing you should do when evaluating a rabbit is to turn it over to see how straight the hocks are.  The hocks should be as close to parallel as possible.  Turned-in hocks usually indicates pinched hindquarters and a lack of hindquarter meat.

If you still have any questions about evaluating rabbits, please add a comment below.  I can put together an addendum post for anything I may have forgotten to cover.